Feehery: The reparations rathole

Feehery: The reparations rathole
© Getty Images

Democrats are about to go down the reparations rathole.

At a hearing last week, the House Judiciary Committee invited several scholars, celebrities and activists to testify about H.R. 40, legislation to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans.

According to the latest polls, the idea of giving cash payments as a way to atone for the sin of slavery is pretty popular among African American voters. According to Gallup, it has a 60 percent approval among this critically important Democratic voting bloc. That number goes much higher if you ask liberal activists that make up the base of the Democratic Party. 


Already, leading Democratic presidential candidates are inching toward endorsing reparations as a policy proposal, led by Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPossible GOP challenger says Trump doesn't doesn't deserve reelection, but would vote for him over Democrat Joe Biden faces an uncertain path The Memo: Trump pushes back amid signs of economic slowdown MORE (Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisJoe Biden faces an uncertain path Biden: 'There's an awful lot of really good Republicans out there' Fighter pilot vs. astronaut match-up in Arizona could determine control of Senate MORE (Calif.). It is only a matter of time before Joe BidenJoe BidenPossible GOP challenger says Trump doesn't doesn't deserve reelection, but would vote for him over Democrat Joe Biden faces an uncertain path The Memo: Trump pushes back amid signs of economic slowdown MORE jumps on board. 

Is this good politics for the Democrats? Is it a good policy for the country? Will it help this country come together or will it increase resentment among different ethnic groups and make things worse?

According to Rasmussen, 68 percent of all voters are opposed to paying reparations to the descendants of former slaves, 13 percent are undecided, while only 21 percent are in favor of it. Getting rid of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, another progressive policy proposal, enjoys similar numbers.  

In a crowded primary field, where every liberal voter is desperately needed and where every harebrained progressive scheme becomes a serious policy proposal, embracing reparations might seem to politically expedient. But from a general election standpoint, it would be a political disaster. 

From a policy perspective, giving cash payments to the descendants of all former slaves makes little sense. Neither Danny Glover nor Oprah WinfreyOprah Gail WinfreyMichelle Obama: 'There's zero chance' I run for president Michael Moore urges Michelle Obama to run against Trump Marianne Williamson: Oprah is 'absolutely not' advising me on presidential run MORE need the money, while mere cash payments won’t help those who live in our nation’s most distressed neighborhoods. Figuring all that out while also figuring out how to pay for it would be a logistical problem which the government is ill-suited to solving.

Giving cash reparations for past sins to only black Americans would almost certainly create the demand for more reparations from other ethnic groups. We treated Native Americans brutally. Where is their recompense? How about how we treated the Chinese, Hispanics and the Jews? They were discriminated against, humiliated, exploited and brutalized, all in their own way. Warren recently suggested that gay Americans deserved some sort of reparations. How do you think that will play out with the voters?

How should Republicans respond to the Democrats’ march down the reparations rathole?

First, they should acknowledge that some communities desperately need help. We can’t continue to ignore areas with persistently high unemployment, underperforming schools, family breakdown, terrible gang problems with children who have little chance of breaking out of an endless cycle of dependency and despair. Something has to change.

But it would be wrong and insulting to suggest that this is a problem that faces all black Americans or only black Americans. There are plenty of African Americans who are doing very, very well, who have successfully created better lives for themselves and their families, despite a legacy of discrimination. 

Likewise, there are plenty of other very poor people who aren’t black but face the same problems that we commonly attribute to the African American experience. Indeed, by the numbers, most poor people are white. By percentage, American Indians have the highest poverty rate. 

Second, Republicans should come up with proposals that are consistent with Republican values to help create a better, more inclusive society. 

We need to expect more from our schools. They need to teach kids not only how to succeed professionally but also how to be better human beings, how to be more caring and more responsible adults. 

We need policies that create more affordable housing. Not public housing, but more affordable private housing. 

We need to promote fatherhood and two-parent families, because there is no greater predictor of economic success than having a dad in your life. 

We need a better way to battle addiction and drug dependency. The president signed criminal justice reform, which was a step in the right direction, but we still have tons of work in this area. 

We should avoid the temptation of using reparations as a political weapon against the Democrats. They are the ones going down that rathole, all by themselves. 

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker Dennis HastertJohn (Dennis) Dennis HastertFeehery: Borders and walls Feehery: Trump inspires temporary House Democratic unity Feehery: The left's patriotism problem MORE (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).